Entertainment

Anime Fans Will Love 'Jujutsu Kaisen 0'

Everyone else… will have a hard time understanding what the hell is going on.

Funimation
Funimation
Funimation

In the post-lockdown box office, a few bankable trends that signal a new movie will rake in good money have calcified: be a movie that stars Tom Holland, be The Batman or a similarly huge superhero property, or be an anime movie of an existing mega-popular series. The first instance of the latter emerged in October 2020 when Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train opened in Japan. Within six weeks, it became the country’s highest-grossing film ever, besting Spirited Away, Titanic, Frozen, and Your Name. Landing in the states in April 2021, when theaters were just unlocking their doors again, it opened at No. 1 at the box office, eventually pulling in nearly $50 million during its run. Now another new anime film expanding on a massive new series is aiming to replicate that success by luring in fans who simp for a chirpy blue-eyed, white-haired sorcerer named Gojo Satoru who can mess with the fabric of space-time by crossing his fingers.

Jujutsu Kaisen 0, a prequel to the shōnen Jujutsu Kaisen, which began airing in late 2019 with one of the best-ever end credits in TV, arrived in North American theaters on Friday. It earned a respectable $17.7 million-second to The Batman‘s third-week grab of almost $37 million. While that difference might look chasmic, consider this: JJK0 beat the next most profitable opening, Ti West’s wild horror film X, by more than $13 million despite bowing in fewer theaters and without a cinephile-favorite distributor (A24) behind it. Instead, it caters specifically to fans who have been dying to see more of the anime about high schoolers who fight curses with cool counter-curses since its first season ended a year ago.And for people who have watched Jujutsu Kaisen, JJK0 scratches that itch in adapting a fan-favorite manga arc set in the year before the events of the main series and closes the loop between the two in a short post-credits scene establishing that we shouldn’t be surprised to see a new character showing up in Season 2 (coming out in 2023). But for those who got dragged along as a plus-one without knowing any of the context, this movie would likely be befuddling, throwing almost every character from the series on-screen at some point with no introduction. If you’re in a seat, you’re expected to have intimate familiarity with the ensemble of sorcerer instructors and older students surrounding pink-haired series protagonist Itadori Yuji on his quest to eat all 20 of the petrified fingers from the body of the world’s most powerful curse, Sukuna.

But again, JJK0 has nothing to do with Yuji and his new classmates, the insanely cool Nobara Kugisaki and detached Megumi Fushiguro. In the year before they arrive at Tokyo Metropolitan Magic Technical College, a different special boy is taken in by Gojo: Okkustu Yuta, kind of a sad sack cursed by his childhood love, Orimoto Rika, who takes on a giant, monstrous, and terrifying form called the Queen of Curses when Yuta is in trouble, brutally murdering four bullies at the beginning of the movie. With the help of series second-years-Inumaki Toge, who mumbles nonsense words in everyday conversation because of his cursed speech power; Maki Zen-in, who comes from a famous jujutsu sorcerer family and has one of the series’ standout episodes that breaks shōnen conventions; and Panda, literally an anthropomorphic panda made by a ritual called cursed corpse mutation-Yuta must learn how to control Rika lest she be seized by all of Jujutsu Kaisen‘s big bad, Geto Suguru, a former friend of Gojo’s and megalomaniac intent on killing all non-sorcerers.

Fleshing out Geto and Gojo’s backstory-clearly fraught, though the reason why is more ambiguous in the series-in JJK0 is one of its more gratifying hallmarks, but the main attractions here are the big melees in all of their architecture-bulldozing glory animated by MAPPA, especially during the final showdown between Yuta and Geto while the Rolodex of jujutsu sorcerers take down the 1,000 curses that Geto has unleashed around Japan. Considering the series, it’s not really a spoiler to say that the good guys win, but the blowout battle back-builds the true stakes of the previous 24 episodes, which often found time to be laugh-out-loud funny as Yuji comes into his own power as Sukuna’s vessel in between frighteningly dire fights with super-tough curses (at least one of which Evil fans will recognize in the volcano-headed Jogo). With Geto scheming his big comeback, those who have seen JJK0 will at least know that Yuji, Gojo, and co. have help on the way, packing the power of one giant curse with lots of sharp teeth.

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Leanne Butkovic is a senior entertainment editor at Thrillist on Twitter @leanbutk.

Entertainment

With One Orgy, 'Queer as Folk' Sets a New TV Standard

Peacock's reboot of the gay drama is finally giving queer disabled people some of the representation they've been seeking on television.

Peacock
Peacock
Peacock

Everything is ready for the orgy. The snacks and drinks are prepared, the disco ball is hanging, and there are mechanical lifts to help people in and out of their wheelchairs. As a few guests mingle and a go-go dancer gyrates, Marvin (played by Eric Graise) rolls onto the stage in his wheelchair to act as emcee. With the help of a sign-language interpreter, he kicks things off by announcing, “I know you’re all dying to tear each other’s clothes off, or to have your attendants take them off for you.” This is no ordinary orgy; it’s “#F*CK Disabled People,” the titular orgy from Episode 4 of Queer as Folk.

The Queer as Folk reboot, released this month on Peacock, is already far more diverse than the versions of the show that came before it: more racially diverse, more body types, more genders, and multiple disabled actors in key roles. Episode 4 pushes the envelope beyond almost anything seen on network TV. It’s the kind of representation that disabled viewers-and actors-have been dreaming about, centring on a queer disabled orgy and one stunningly beautiful sex scene.

Ryan O’Connell, who both co-writes and acts in the series, recognized the reboot’s potential when it came to better representing the lives of queer disabled people like himself. Key to this was sharing the screen with multiple disabled actors, including recurring appearances by Graise. Marvin’s presence had already sold O’Connell on the show when he began meeting with series developer Stephen Dunn, who had previously directed the coming-of-age movie Closet Monster. “He was like, ‘I also want you to star in it too,’ and I was like, ‘Wait, you want two disabled people?'” says O’Connell.

O’Connell grew up enjoying the sexy, soapy escapades of the American Queer as Folk, Showtime’s five-season adaptation of the British series of the same name. Amid widespread bigotry and the AIDS epidemic, the two popular shows offered a rare picture of happy gay life. But O’Connell longed for a reflection of himself on the screen. That impulse eventually led him to create Special, the Netflix sitcom about a gay man with cerebral palsy seeking love, sex, and friendship. Queer as Folk gives him another special opportunity: to tell sexy, soapy, positive LGBTQIA+ stories with an ensemble cast wherein he wouldn’t be the only disabled character. “I was so shocked in a way that was truly depressing, but it’s so rare as disabled people that we get any kind of inclusion whatsoever, let alone that there’s two of us,” O’Connell says. “Immediately, writing for the reboot, I felt a sense of ease.”For Graise, working on a show written by O’Connell was a “dream come true.” He continues, “I’d always said there needs to be a disabled person in the writers’ room, but I had no idea how significant it would be and how much it meant to me. And even Stephen Dunn has a disabled friend who Marvin is very much inspired by.”

Marvin is outgoing, even wild in his energy. When we meet him at a bar in the first episode of the series, he acts like he owns the place, flirting and serving up wicked verbal jabs with equal ease. Before we get to know him better, O’Connell’s shy, sheltered Julian Beaumont seems to fade into the background by comparison. Initially, he serves mostly as a foil to his more outgoing older brother, Brodie (Devin Way), who, in many ways, is the chaotic core around which the rest of the ensemble orbits. During the first three episodes, the brothers, along with Brodie’s on-again, off-again lover Noah (Johnny Sibilly), convert their shared New Orleans home into the epic party house known as “Ghost Fag.” It’s Ghost Fag that attracts Marvin, in the fourth episode, with the idea of hosting a queer disabled orgy. We don’t learn as much about Marvin’s background, but it’s clear he’s made himself a cornerstone of the LGBTQIA+ community despite the everyday ableism he faces.

Beyond the surface differences, Julian and Marvin couldn’t be more divergent. In addition to their differing disabilities (Marvin, like Graise, is a double amputee), they come from disparate economic classes and have radically contrasting outlooks on life. Julian protects his vulnerability with an introverted lifestyle and a carefully cultivated routine, while Marvin hides his behind a boisterous exterior. Just like real life, not all members of a marginalized group get along, or even have very much in common.

“I don’t ever try to feel the burden of representation because there’s no point-you have to write from a place of truth,” says O’Connell, who wrote Episode 4 with Alyssa Taylor. “It was really fun creatively to have these two disabled characters who are so wildly different from each other in how they conduct themselves in their relationship to disability and to sex and all those things, but also I think in Episode 4 it was really interesting to show their commonalities.”

Peacock
Peacock
Peacock

Both Marvin and Julian get laid over the course of the episode, but even before their clothes come off, the orgy scene fills the screen with something seldom seen on TV: disabled people in all their sexual glory. The scenario was inspired by a 2015 disabled sex party co-hosted in Toronto by Andrew Gurza, the show’s disability awareness consultant. After Gurza joined QaF, he mentioned the party in the writers’ room. “Mine was a lot more tame than this should be,” Gurza recalls telling them. “I’d like this to be a lot racier.”

Gurza even appears in a sex scene during the episode. “Being together on the show was an amazing moment,” says O’Connell, who cites Gurza as one of his inspirations. “He’s so honest and demands that his voice be heard and makes no apologies for that, and I try to do the same.”

As the orgy continues, both characters hook up with sex workers. It’s clear the actors and creators wanted to affirm that sex work is work. “It’s incredibly difficult work, not only the physical labour but the emotional space you have to hold for somebody to make them feel seen and heard and not judged. It makes me happy to showcase their work in a more positive light,” O’Connell notes.

Sachin Bhatt, who plays Ali, the sex worker hired by Marvin, agrees. He adds that his role is an all-too-rare example of a Southeast Asian man being sexual on-screen. “Anyone who’s not a cisgender, white male has many more mountains to climb,” Bhatt says. “So for me it was really exciting to play this sex worker because they wouldn’t typically cast an Indian for this role.”

Peacock
Peacock
Peacock

While their relationship is transactional to begin with, Ali is respectful, playful, and caring throughout his interactions with Marvin. However, his feelings for his client intensify during Episode 4 as the pair connect alone in a room at Ghost Fag. “We bonded instantly,” Bhatt recalls of Graise. “It was very important to both of us that we get the intimacy and the vulnerability right.”

For Graise, who also appeared on Netflix’s Locke & Key, that actorly connection made the sequence what it is. “We spent a lot of time kiki’ing off-set and discussing what we wanted out of this scene for both of us. The scene wasn’t just about me. It’s also Ali exploring Marvin’s body in a way that he’s never explored with anyone before, and his insecurities and trepidations about interacting with a disabled body.”

Unlike previous interactions shown between them, Ali asks to top Marvin this time-and to interact with his body in new ways. “Can I touch your legs?” Ali asks. This was influenced by Graise’s own life, as someone he dated for three years realized he’d never touched Graise’s legs. After some tender caressing, Marvin wraps his thighs around Ali and they make love. Graise’s background as a dancer is evident in his elegant movement throughout the scene, which contrasts with some of the polished, more “Hollywood”-style sequences that appear elsewhere in the series.

“Sachin and Eric really fucking landed that plane,” O’Connell says. “It was everything I want in a sex scene, which is that it was vulnerable, it was tender, it was awkward, and it was sexy.”Beyond the new Queer As Folk, it’s rare for media to let disabled people be either queer or sexy. O’Connell cited a few other examples, such as Jillian Mercado’s role in The L Word: Generation Q or the work of playwright and actor Ryan J. Haddad, but it’s sparse overall. With one episode, Queer as Folk has set a high bar for other shows to follow, and the series as a whole demonstrates how disabled actors can portray real, complex, and flawed human beings.

“A cognitive dissonance happens when we watch things on our TV screens, where, all of a sudden, we want things to be simplified,” O’Connell says. “Isn’t it art’s job to reflect humanity accurately?

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Kit O’Connell is the Digital Editor at the Texas Observer, and lives in Austin, Texas with their spouse and two cats. Follow them @KitOConnell.

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